I’ve just had the enormous pleasure to spend four days at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I have long-adored the city, but had never visited the world-famous festival before, so this was quite literally a dream holiday. The city remained as beautiful as ever, with the added bonus that everywhere you turned, there was a remarkable talent (or a shameless exhibitionist) on display. As my friend said, “There’s not a single room in Edinburgh they’ve not crammed something into, is there?” And she’s right. We plodded around theatres, pubs, comedy clubs, spare rooms in bar basements and even the Student’s Union building in search of entertainment, and boy, did the city deliver. Since this is a blog all about reviews, it seems only fair to then discuss, if only briefly, every show I saw on my whistle stop visit, starting with…

Best of the Fest: Daytime

We decided to open with a show that would give us a taster of the sort of thing to expect from the week. With a rotating cast of comedy and music acts, you never know who you’ll be seeing in the spiegeltent on the day. Our MC was drag act Reuben Kaye who burst onto the stage with great energy and introduced us to comedian Marlon Davis, comedy troupe Pamela’s Palace, sketch-performing duo Max and Ivan, and dancers Noise Boys. All great fun, the middle two involving audience interaction (important tip for Edinburgh: unless you’re a confident sort, don’t sit in the front row or on an end), but probably it was Reuben who stole the show. His flyer contained a review saying he was like a hybrid of Liza Minnelli and Jim Carrey, and it’s very hard to dispute that. I’d recommend a “Best of the Fest” to anyone, like me, who is new to it and wants to get a taste of the thing.

Cordelia and Dimple: Buffet

In the spirit of there not being a single empty room during the Festival, we dived into a tiny room beneath the City Cafe, around the size of my bedroom, where maybe fifteen people were sat for Dimple Pau and Cordelia Graham. Due to the smallness of the room, it was an intensely intimate gig where I was sat but a foot from the performers. Had they not been funny, this would have been very awkward, but fortunately they were. Dimple shared stories of her home life, where her parents strict adherence to veganism has meant she has to lie about her own lifestyle, and Cordelia points out the struggles of having a mother who quotes Shakespeare all the time. When Cordelia, however, complained that she wanted to write a book but would never get round to it, she asked the audience if any of them had ever published a book. Basically, what I’m saying is, thanks for letting me plug my novel in a very minor way at the Fringe!

The Daily Ceilidh

This was not so much a show as an experience, but it’s worth mentioning because it still appears in the brochure and was enormous fun. Held in the awesome Stramash bar, throughout the Fringe the bar hosts a new band and a ceilidh every evening. For those who don’t know, a ceilidh (pronounced “kay-lee”) is a traditional Scottish folk dance and is fast, frantic and, I discovered to my immense pleasure, fun. Had I been alone, there was no way I would have taken part, but after watching a few dances, my friend and I joined the crowd and got stuck in. I don’t think I’d realised that “dance in a ceilidh” was on my bucket list until it happened.

Zoe Lyons: Entry Level Human

I’ve been a big fan of Brighton-based comedian Zoe Lyons since she first started appearing on TV, so she was high on my list of people I wanted to see. As a big fan of comedy, I was also aware of the Gilded Balloon as a big Edinburgh location, and it was a thrill to be in there, too. Zoe’s set was fast and enormously witty, with talk on why computer experts all sound a bit adenoidal, why we all become a bit more “Brexit-y” as we get older, what makes flies able to get into a window but not out of one, the problem with Deliveroo, and the dangers of travelling to very conservative Muslim countries as a lesbian. (Spoiler: the problem isn’t what you think.) I love her even more than I did before – an absolutely stellar show and one of my favourites.

Mark Watson: I Appreciate You Coming to This and Let’s Hope For the Best

When he appeared on Taskmaster, Greg Davies insisted repeatedly that Mark looks like a heron. Having now seen him in person, I can only agree. His terrible posture is made up for by his absolutely incredible material, made all the more impressive that this show is a “work in progress”, meaning it’s not actually finished yet and he’s just testing jokes and routines to see how they work for a final show to go on tour later in the year. Mark manages to be wonderfully self-deprecating but also comes across as a genuinely nice man who is just a bit wound up and only thin because he lives life at a level of anxiety that his body can’t keep up with. There was talk of his recent divorce, why he’s a bad parent, his attempts at learning to drive, and how to deal with the responsibility of being in the exit row of a plane. But given the nature of the show, what he talks about another night might be entirely different.

Ben Van der Velde: Fablemaker

Speaking of a different show every night, we come to Ben Van der Velde. I’m already a big fan as the podcast he co-hosts, Worst Foot Forward, is one of my absolute favourites, so I was determined to catch him at the Fringe. Based entirely around crowd work, of which he is surely one of the masters, he finds out about his audience and weaves their stories into a single narrative with an astounding memory of names and details. Because of this reliance on the crowd, every show is entirely different, but Ben manages to keep the audience on-side and any digs at them are tongue-in-cheek and he never oversteps the line to direct offence, no matter what he’s actually saying. And, as a bonus, we had a nice chat after the show as well and he was just as charming off stage as on.

The Thinking Drinkers: Heroes of Hooch

If a show is advertised where you get given drinks while you watch it, you know I’m going to be there. The Thinking Drinkers are Tom and Ben, two alcohol experts who have the mantra, “Drink less, drink better”, which is solid advice. The show takes the form of both a set of comedy skits and a Ted Talk about the history of alcohol, as we explore how it came to be and who has loved it since. Focusing on “heroes of hooch”, the pair touch on the alcohol-fuelled exploits of the likes of Buzz Aldrin, Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, and even God. Throughout, the audience are handed drinks and taught how to taste them. We knocked back beer, gin, rum, whisky and Gran Marnier as the show became more hysterical. It’s kind of like QI, but down the pub.

Shit-Faced Shakespeare

Is this a pint I see before me? The opposite of the previous show, here the audience aren’t given alcohol, but we instead see a performance of Macbeth where one of the cast has been drinking for hours before the performance begins. This time round it was Banquo who had been on the lash (six beers and quarter of a bottle of gin) and thus began one of the most anarchic performances of Shakespeare I’ve ever encountered. While the rest of the five-person cast gamely tries to complete the play, our Banquo (who also took on the role of Lady Macduff and one of the witches) stumbled through her words, was encouraged to drink further by the audience, and at one point even kicked Macbeth in the face. The rest of the cast hilariously incorporate any mistakes into the play, and it was one of the maddest things I’ve ever seen. It’s what William would have wanted.

Are we not drawn onward to new erA?

We decided we had to get something highbrow in, and the reviews of this show from Belgian troupe Ontroerend Goed were amazing, so we decided to snatch up some tickets. Experimental theatre at its most experimental, this show sees a first act take place entirely in reverse with even the dialogue happening backwards, making it sound like you’re watching The Sims on stage. The actors destroy a tree, litter the stage with plastic bags and build a statue. At the halfway point, they realise that they have destroyed their world, and the second act sees exactly what happened the first time but forwards instead. How do they achieve this? That’s not my place to say, but it blows the mind, and things take on a different take when seen the other way around. A haunting and intelligent piece about climate change and environmental disaster.

Agatha is Missing

You thought I’d manage to get through the whole experience without somehow involving Agatha Christie, did you? Please, I’m not an amateur. In this one-woman show, we meet Miss Clarissa Marbles of Scotland Yard, who is attempting to solve the mystery of Agatha Christie’s disappearance. Everyone in the room is a suspect, but we also get a chance to submit our own solutions and see if we can work it out. Relying heavily on audience participation, suspects and witnesses are called up out of the crowd, sometimes selected by Marbles, but sometimes simply by previous players. Shows like this only work if the audience are into it, and while most people gave it a good go, others were clearly dazzled by the lights and couldn’t handle the pressure. I’m not saying I could do any better, but when there’s nothing for the host to bounce off of, it means some lines fall a bit flat. Prudence Wright Holmes, however, the single performer, is absolutely wonderful and fully embodied the hilarious role, from her abhorrence regarding anything modern or immoral, to her tuneless singing of the national anthem.

Geeks, Stand Up

This was another free show we decided to pop in on and give a chance to as the concept seemed interesting. The premise is simple enough: four geeky comedians get to come on and talk about things they are passionate about but are a bit too niche to include in their usual set. I was a bit worried this might mean an hour of Star Wars or Avengers talk that I didn’t understand, but the spread was wide, with the MC taking on the superhero stuff (and finding the audience taking the opposite point of view for almost everything he said), and the other four joking about basketball, online homophobia, archaeology and professional wrestling. A decidedly mixed bag, the absolute stand out was 19-year-old Andrew White who tackled homophobia and did jokes about being the only single person in his hometown and not being a stereotype because he can’t dress well. He also included some of his “failed” observational comedy, including the bizarre but honest question, “Why do you never see a little branch of Asda?” Very true, and funny simply by the conceit of not being funny at all. Fortunately, he knows this, and he’s very much in on the joke.

Phil Wang: Philly Philly Wang Wang

Phil’s rise to the top of the comedy pile seems to have been meteoric, but we sure are glad to have him. In his highly-polished show at the Pleasance (another one of those fabled Fringe institutions), he discusses getting older and how this has impacted his farting habits, when it’s OK to impersonate another race’s accent, male contraception, and how Tinder is the quickest way to gain friends but not actually have any sex. Sweet and very endearing, he is great at balancing egotism and self-deprecation. I particularly enjoyed the quip, “People try to call me a minority, but I’m half English and half Chinese. I’m both majorities.” This, he explains, means that whichever side of the world ends up taking over, he’ll be fine.

Alex Love: How to Win a Pub Quiz (British Edition)

Hosted by Alex Love, this one saw the first half of the performance involve a stand-up set, and the second half contained a pub quiz, mostly based on things that Alex had discussed. It was a nice concept, and Alex had a few good moments, but the show unfortunately stalled a couple of times, particularly when team names were recorded and points were added up. Alex did his best to fill the gaps, and some of the questions were very clever, relying on red herrings and trip-ups from his earlier stories, such as talking about Tim Peake or Loch Ness, but then asking questions on similar topics where the answers were actually Helen Sharman or Lough Neagh. A good quiz, but could have benefited from being hosted more like one, rather than with the audience in rows.

Stuart Goldsmith: Primer

Another show I went to because of a podcast, and another work in progress. Stuart Goldsmith hosts The Comedian’s Comedian Podcast, in which he interviews other comics about their careers and processes, and whenever he’s released a stand-up set alongside it, they are also hysterical. His new work in progress show was similarly brilliant. His notes were up on the side of the stage alongside him, and it was charming to see him work through them, as well as leave audio notes for himself on his recording of the show. Topics included how you change as you get to know your romantic partner better, how to perform acts of terrorism on the cheap, the large population of fairies in his nearby park, and the incredible story of the time his family stole a car. Incredible stuff, and I hope I get to hear the final show at some point.


And that’s it! Fourteen in four days is pretty heavy going. I already plan on going back for next year, for longer hopefully, but I think a day of rest in the middle would be very necessary. If you’re in Edinburgh and are looking for suggestions, I hope some of these have helped. And if there is anything you saw that you think I should know about, please let me know! It’s astonishing how many thousands of performances there are and I wish there was time to do them all. As it is, my first Fringe experience was absolutely wonderful and I consider myself very lucky to have seen such great shows.

For those uninterested in this stuff, don’t worry. Book reviews will continue again in the next few days.